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Sheep Damage Causes Mayo Landslide
By Angry Angler
20, Sep 2003 - 12:54

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Last night in Mayo – sheep overgrazing caused two miles of road to be washed away by a major landslide 10 miles from Belmullet near Pollatomish. Twenty houses were cut off. Several bridges were washed away and one house was destroyed (luckily no one in the house). What if a number of people had been killed? As it was two graveyards were badly damaged and human remains were actually washed away in the flood from the old Pollatomish graveyard!

I did see some lightning way off to the west of Castlebar last night suggesting a thunderstorm in the distance; but even very heavy rain shouldn't cause this kind of damage. It's not a coincidence of course that there are more sheep per acre in this part of North Mayo than anywhere else in Ireland!

Mayo hillsides have little or no heather left and bare soil is exposed making landslides likely.

The sheep are to blame - you can't overstock sheep on steep slopes and not have consequences like this. Thousands and thousands of sheep are out there devouring every blade of grass; even right down to the roots of the purple moor grass which effectively holds the soil in place on the steep mountainsides. Heather is an endangered species on our hillsides. These hillsides are unravelling as their fabric is ripped apart by overgrazing.

So - one heavy downpour too many and the Dooncarton hillside comes tumbling out onto the Pollatomish Road! The fisheries boards have been complaining about the damage sheep are causing to mountainsides, and hence to rivers and fish, for years. Piles of stones washing down rivers in every flood due to the lack of heather and grass cover - lack of soil even in many places.

Stones delivered downstream from the slopes upstream. The hillsides are gradually 'unravelling' with each successive rainfall event.

This time the loose stones swept along by the flood succeeded in taking out a few bridges. The landslide also dumped 2 metres of peat muck and subsoil onto the road probably washing away parts of the road itself. A very expensive cleanup and repair job will follow. Of course this is nothing new. It all happened before out on Achill with a whole section of road taken out near Keem.

Most of the regular overgrazing damage occurs unseen in off-road areas not directly affecting roads - at least not until a bridge gets swept away by the sheer force of stones being transported downstream in floods. The stones hammer against bridge structures like projectiles. River banks are undermined and ripped away. Rivers widen out to 10 times what they should be and end up looking like the stone deserts shown in the photos. Millions of euros have already been spent by the Western and North Western Fisheries Boards trying to fix the damage to river banks. The photos above and below show a Mayo river on the western side of Lough Mask that has suffered badly from sheep. It is more like a Baghdad bombsite than a river! The fish here get pulverised by the stones and sand moving downstream in every flood. Spawning beds are shredded by flood-borne stones and sand that has come from landslides and eroded river banks. The other photos show just some examples of what the mountainsides look like in many parts of Mayo where the sheep have been overstocked to the nth degree. It takes a long time to recover from this kind of damage.

It doesn't look like it but this is actually a riverbed not a bomb crater! These stones can take out a bridge in just one big flood.

Sheep damage - A typical small slippage or mini landslide caused by too many sheep.

So the question is - when is someone going to stop the sheep farmers destabilising mountains? Do we have to wait for someone to be killed with a repeat of last night's awesome damage? It's time for the farmers to cop themselves on. It’s time for someone to put a stop to their gallop.

The IFA feel they should be immune from environmental controls. They have always disputed the fact that they have caused irreparable hillside damage by overgrazing sheep.

An ironic footnote to all this is it occurred only a few miles from Bellanaboy where all the local environmental protestors were on about the potential 'environmental damage' from the proposed gas terminal. For actual long-term and ongoing environmental damage they didn't have very far to go! Perhaps the same ‘environmentalists’ should wake up and smell the coffee - or even the sheep droppings. The IFA have posters all over the western region telling fisheries officers to go to hell! And what about a few posters giving the other side of the environmental story? What will local IFA office and sheep farmers' representatives say about this one?  

I think that last night The Environment gave its answer? Let's see the politicians fix this one!

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